Portland music producer Gino Brown (left) works with singer Fils Ya Methiola in his makeshift studio located in an upstairs bedroom on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Brown sees music production as his pathway to a better life.

PORTLAND, Maine —  Gino Brown’s fingers flew over his MacBook in a blur last week while tweaking and massaging a set of sound files on the screen. When finished, Brown gave a silent nod to singer Fils Ya Methiola, who started crooning into a nearby microphone in French.

Brown’s face then went slack as his ears took over. Listening to Methiola, he waggled his fingers in the air a little, like a subtle symphony conductor.

The pair were working on a new song in Brown’s makeshift recording studio, tucked into one corner of the upstairs bedroom he shares with his girlfriend in a public housing project. The surroundings were modest but the sounds the two artists laid down were luxurious.

Portland music producer Gino Brown (right) listens to playback with singer Fils Ya Methiola in his makeshift studio located in an upstairs bedroom on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Brown sees music production as his pathway to a better life. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

When Methiola was done singing, Brown rolled the playback. Lavish harmonies and complex rhythms radiated from the speakers.

Brown, 24, is an up-and-coming artist and producer with hopes of making his name, and a living, in the music business. He sees it as his way out of a family cycle of drugs, violence and poverty.

His immediate dreams are modest. Brown wants to buy a house and get out of the shabby subsidized unit where he’s helping raise his girlfriend’s three children. He’d also like a yard for the kids and a basement big enough to build a proper recording studio.

That’s it — to start, anyway.

But for now, he’s hustling. Charging $20 an hour for studio time in his unglamourous digs.

But Brown is no fool. Singers and rappers who want to work with him must pay the first hour in advance.  

Portland rapper and music producer Gino Brown, 24, stands outside the public housing unit he shares with his girlfriend and her three children. Brown sees the music business as a path to a better life for himself and his family. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Brown said his own rough beginnings fuel his music business ambitions.

“I have something to prove,” he said. “To myself and people around me.”

Brown spent the first four years of his life in chaos, his family living in Portland’s Kennedy Park housing project.

“My cousin got stabbed to death. My other cousin got shot. My grandmother is a drug dealer and addict to this day,” he said.

By the age of five, both Brown’s parents were serving drug-related jail terms in the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. Unable to care for him at that point, they gave their son up for adoption.

Brown said he still doesn’t know all the details of how he was soon adopted by a corrections officer at the prison where his parents were doing time.

His adoptive parents gave him a stable home in the Oxford Hills region but his childhood was not always happy. Brown said his early childhood trauma haunted him, manifesting itself in anxiety and depression. He didn’t always get along with his adoptive parents, either.

Looking for direction, Brown joined the Army the summer he graduated from high school in 2015.

During his four-year stint, he became a technology and communications specialist. Brown helped respond to several domestic hurricane emergencies, including Hurricane Harvey, which flooded most of Houston, Texas.

While serving at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, Brown befriended a local, successful rapper who encouraged him to think about music as a post-Army career.

Singer Fils Ya Methiola records a vocal track in Gino Brown’s makeshift recording studio on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“I’ve always been a performer, as way back as I can remember,” Brown said. “I started doing talent shows in middle school.”

When he was discharged from the Army in 2019, he spent some time couch surfing but also taking online music production courses. Brown soaked up everything he could find about how to record and promote music.

“There’s more to the music business than just making music, and there’s no hip hop label to get signed to in Maine. I know if anything is going to happen, I’ll have to do it myself,” he said.

These days, Brown works most mornings at a local graphic design and printing studio. Then, in the afternoons and evenings, he records people in his micro studio or works on the business end of his enterprise.

“I’m recording at least three days a week,” Brown said. “If not that, then I’m mixing or mastering music — or planning for the future, how I can make a bigger studio happen.”

Brown designs graphics, coordinates collaborations and promotes artists online, as well.

He even finds time to record his own music under the name Sim Lakia. He’s got a new album in the works which includes a collaboration with an artist from Liverpool, England.

A dream catcher casts a shadow in the afternoon light under and inspirational quote in Gino Brown’s small recording studio in Portland on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“He’s by far one of the most driven individuals I have ever had the opportunity to work with, from his music to his family,” said Brown’s childhood friend and frequent musical collaborator Wulfe Raasumaa. “I truly see him being very well known within the next couple years, if not sooner.”

Brown’s reputation reached Maine hip hop artist Darshan Snow of Kittery last summer. Snow liked what he heard and hired Brown to record him.

Snow said he’s also impressed with Brown’s work ethic.

“I think he grinds and puts a lot of time into his craft — just because of the progress I’ve seen from snippets and recent songs of his,” Snow said.

Brown said he works hard because he has no other choice.

“This is the thing that’s got to get me out of where I am right now,” he said.

Avatar photo

Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.